2015 O’Leary Walker “Wyatt Earp” Fortified Shiraz 18.5%

This is not my typical review, but features detours galore – that I hope will stimulate research by my readers.

Australia produced many “series” of fortified “ports” with racehorses, greyhounds, Prime ministers – and more – adorning labels. “Wyatt Earp” immediately seems to lack any Australian heritage but was a brand launched by Quelltaler, and now this vintage appears from O’Leary Walker.

Wyatt Earp was the gambler and lawman famed for the “shootout at the OK Corral”. He was portrayed by Henry Fonda  in John Ford’s excellent western movie “My Darling Clementine”. Parts of this movie – and many more – were shot in the indelibly scenic Monument Valley – (Utah/Arizona)- which I visited in October 2014 and recently in April 2019. I am a monster fan of these westerns, with Ford’s “Searchers”, “She Wore a yellow Ribbon”, “Stagecoach”, “Fort Apache”, “Rio Grande”,  “Wagon Master”, “Sergeant Rutledge” “Liberty Vallance”, plus more westerns by other directors such as “Red River”, “Shane”, “True Grit” and “Unforgiven” supremely recommended.  A further diversion is that “My Darling Clementine” also features one of my favourite character actors –  Walter Brennan, charismatically irresistible here,as well as in “The Westerner” and with Humphrey Bogart in “To have and have not”.

Google revealed the antipodean connection to Dodge City and Tombstone’s marshall. American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth converted a boat for polar use in 1929 and named it “Wyatt Earp”, after one of his heroes. The boat made several voyages (from Adelaide) to Antarctica until the Australian navy acquired the vessel in 1939 – renaming it “Wongala”.  Several more names changes occurred until the boat ran aground in 1959. A Quelltaler box claimed that the boat’s skipper developed a firm friendship, and made regular copious vintage port purchases for the crew. The fortified was then branded as “Wyatt Earp” in celebration. The earliest Wyatt Earp vintage I found references to was from 1947, with the latest from 1977. But I’m glad it was revived!

It may seem odd to be tasting a fortified Shiraz that is so youthful, with many years before its most rewarding drinking window. The winemaker has to aim a long, long way into the future. However, this drinking decision was inspired by Andrew Jefford’s extraordinarily stimulating column in Decanter, where he describes the winemaking process as  “fruit is pummeled to annihilation as quickly as possible during a break-neck vinification period of extreme if carefully controlled violence (perhaps cage-fighting would be the best metaphor of all)”. Jefford then adds a riveting tasting note, in support of early – and later- drinking of this fascinating wine style.

After these digressions, (finally) I turn to the 2015 O’Leary Walker Fortified Shiraz (screwcap, 500ml, Clare Valley – South Australia, available from the O’Leary Walker website). The back label asserts it’s made from 80y/o Shiraz vines and fortified with brandy spirit.

2015 o'leary walker fortified

It’s a luscious, youthful purple/crimson colour; its perfumed meld includes blackcurrant, dark cherry, plum, light cocoa, and delicious fine, sweet brandy spirit; the palate adds blackberry, blueberry and the emergence of some fig and dark cocoa. By no means a blockbuster, it’s ultra supple, with fine tannins supporting the fruit weight. This wine is surprisingly delicious already, although another 20 years is easily achievable and will increase the variety of characters detectable. I’m very glad Jefford tempted me into trying this youthful wine!

Drink to 2040 and 92 points.

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